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The impact that President Biden's executive order on abortion access will have

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden signed an executive order on abortion access today. But he stressed that only political change could restore the rights removed when the Supreme Court upended Roe v. Wade. Speaking today in the Roosevelt Room, Biden criticized Republican lawmakers, state legislators and conservative justices as extremists.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: So what we're witnessing wasn't a constitutional judgment, it was an exercise in raw political power.

CHANG: Well, joining us now to talk about what is in this executive order is Kim Mutcherson, a dean and professor of law at Rutgers University, where she specializes in reproductive justice. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KIM MUTCHERSON: Thank you.

CHANG: So can you just very briefly explain, what does this order say?

MUTCHERSON: Not very much. So I can briefly explain it. You know, it basically lays out a plan for people to keep talking about things that they might be able to do. So the language is very vague. You know, it's directing the Department of Health and Human Services to consider a bunch of things - right? - how do you expand access to medication abortion, making sure that there's access to contraception, you know, all of these things. And yet so much of it is just, let's consider this, let's consider this, let's consider that.

And I think part of why I am having a really negative reaction to it is it makes me think, what have they been doing, right? I mean, the Dobbs opinion was leaked a few months ago. A bunch of senators wrote to them in early June, I think - let me see - June 7 was the letter that Elizabeth Warren and others sent to say, look, the administration needs to be thinking, it needs to step up to the plate here. And yet, given the opportunity to issue an executive order, it's about as milquetoast as you could be, even down to the fact that they barely use the word abortion in it.

CHANG: At least nine states now have banned abortion so far since this Supreme Court ruling came down. For people in those states specifically, does this executive order change anything for them?

MUTCHERSON: Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing. And, you know, even the way that this order is written and the generality of this order makes me feel like, you know, this administration isn't willing to fight. And that, I think, is really problematic.

CHANG: So what does that fight look like to you? I mean, you said earlier in this conversation, what has the administration been doing this whole time? Are there any other tools Biden should be employing right now?

MUTCHERSON: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that, you know, some folks have talked about is the idea of declaring a public health emergency in relationship to abortion, which frees up some resources, not a ton. But what it also would allow this administration to do is to genuinely increase access to medication abortion, which is, again, going to be a huge deal in a post-Roe world. And so, you know, not willing to be able to do the public health emergency, not being willing to think in really concrete ways about how abortion could be provided on federal lands, not talking in really serious ways about even people who are already in the military, how their access to abortion services are curtailed - you know, what about people who are incarcerated in states that have bans in place?

There's so much to be thought about here. They should have been thinking about these things for months. And instead, they're now telling us, now we're going to start really thinking about these issues. And that really signals to me that they are not putting the kind of effort into protecting abortion access that a lot of us voted for.

CHANG: That is Kim Mutcherson, a dean and professor of law at Rutgers University. Thank you so much for your time today.

MUTCHERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.